This story contains spoilers for The Last Jedi.
For at least two generations, the Star Wars saga has served as a kind of secularized American religion. Throughout the series, the Force is a stand-in for a divine power that draws on a number of mystical traditions, representing the balance of good and evil, the promise of an ultimate unity, and the notion that those learned in its ways can tap into the infinite.
In the latest Star Wars film, though, the theology of this secular belief system shifts. From A New Hope through The Force Awakens, learning to master the Force required faith, ritual, and ancient wisdom—all of which are hallmarks of institutionalized religion. But in The Last Jedi, a grizzled Luke Skywalker dismisses the Jedi mythos, and presents a more modern take on theology that accords with the “spiritual but not religious” trend that finds younger Americans to be less interested in organized faith but more open to spiritual experiences. Rather than being brought into the tradition, Rey, Luke’s would-be trainee, must find the Force within herself.
It doesn’t take much to see how classically religious themes pervade the early Star Wars movies, which feature an intergenerational narrative of temptation, sin, and redemption that recalls several biblical story lines. The prequel trilogy likewise tells the story of Anakin Skywalker’s virgin birth, the prophecy of the “chosen one,” Anakin’s fall to the dark side, and his eventual resurrection (though it is as evil incarnate in the form of Darth Vader).